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Jefferson County applies for 5-star variance

If CDPHE approves, it would allow for more people to be let inside businesses.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Jefferson County announced it filed an application with the state for the five-star business variance program.

The county said its application and letters of support were submitted to the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on Dec. 23.

If CDPHE approves the application, it would allow increased capacity for local businesses.

JeffCo said if the variance is approved, the first phase of its certification program would be aimed at restaurants that do not have a drive-through option.

"Like other counties, we are limited with resources and bandwidth. We are 100% dedicated to getting all of our businesses open as quickly as we can, but we want to do it safely," said Lesley Dahlkemper, (D) Jefferson County Commissioner.

RELATED: Douglas, Larimer counties get approval under state's 5 Star Variance Program

As of 4 p.m. on Thursday, Douglas County had approved 59 businesses, including 42 restaurants, 14 gyms and a movie theater in Highlands Ranch.

The certification program would allow businesses that comply with public health guidelines and safety precautions to operate with capacity restrictions one level above the county's status on the state's COVID dial.

Currently, indoor dining is prohibited in Jefferson County. If the variance application is approved and a restaurant attains certification, it would allow for indoor dining with an initial 25% seating capacity, with a maximum of 50 people.

The county said if COVID case numbers continue to decline, more business sectors would be eligible to apply for certification.

"The bottom line is, we want to get to a point in Jefferson County where we can safely open up all of our restaurants," said Dahlkemper.

The state has warned counties that want to qualify for the five-star program, that it can't use public health dollars to administer the program.

"Due to the demanding nature of the pandemic, and critical existing public health responsibilities like vaccine distribution and contact tracing, Local Public Health dollars should not be diverted to fund this program," the state's application process states.

Douglas County plans to have current county staff in different departments assist in the inspection process.

Jefferson County will spend $250,000 in CARES Act funding to hire a third-party company, SAFEbuilt, to implement the program.

"We know that we've got dollars already allocated for vaccine rollout, contact tracing (and) testing. In addition to that, we've got to think about our local economy and jobs. How do we get our businesses back open? Using dollars to help address five-star applications and get those businesses up and running are really critical to our economy. We're talking about jobs, we're talking about people putting food on the table," said Dahlkemper.

JeffCo said it encourages businesses to "implement COVID safety measures beyond what is already required, and thus accelerate their increased capacity."

JeffCo said while they are awaiting approval from CDPHE, businesses need to submit a business interest form informing the county that their business would be willing and able to meet all of the criteria for the five-star certification program.

On Wednesday, CDPHE approved Douglas and Larimer counties' variance applications, making them the first counties along the Front Range to apply and be approved. 

The idea for the five-star variance came from Mesa County on Colorado's Western Slope. 

RELATED: Mesa County COVID-19 certification program for businesses serves as model for statewide initiative

RELATED: What customers should know before going to a '5-star' approved business